A SOUTHILL man whose testimony led to the imprisonment of seven associates of the Dundon-McCarthy gang last year believes he is still under threat – despite the withdrawal of his 24-hour Garda protection before Christmas.
Mark Heffernan said he was “sickened” this week to see Steve Collins and his family have to quit Ireland and begin a new life abroad under a Garda relocation programme. Mr Collins’ son Roy was murdered in 2009 four years after members of his family gave evidence in court against gang leader Wayne Dundon.
Mr Heffernan said his family was too large to allow him to follow suit but the option was now closed to him in any case after gardai had reassessed the risk to his life.
“Before, I was offered the witness protection programme on two occasions but couldn’t accept it because of the large extended family. On that day, on December 19 when the 24-hour protection was pulled off me, they used the words moderate risk. At that point, I mentioned the witness protection programme again just to see would it be still on the table if I felt that I couldn’t get around without the protection. But I was told at that point that because there was such a low risk, I wouldn’t even [be considered to] enter the programme now,” Mr Heffernan said this week.
The father-of-two described how his personal security had gone from round-the clock protection – with two armed gardai tailing him at all times – to “nothing at all”.
“And I haven’t had any after care. I haven’t received a phone call asking me if everything was OK or was there anything unusual,” he said.
Mr Heffernan maintained there had been one incident of intimidation since protection was withdrawn - when a lorry owned by the family rubbish removal business was torched on the Hyde Road in January.
And he believes the threat against him and his relatives is still very real. “I have to be very careful when I go out and in what I do now because I have no protection. It’s a tough life where every second of every minute, I have to be lucky and the gang only have to be lucky for that one split-second to catch me off guard.”
Mr Heffernan’s troubles with the Dundon-McCarthy gang originate in a dispute with a former business partner at a nightclub he was running in Newcastle West. After that business relationship turned sour, gang members launched into a long-running campaign to extort money from Mr Heffernan.
Mr Heffernan said he was well aware of comments on-line suggesting he should never have become involved in business with unsavoury characters, claims he categorically rejects. While he was at primary school with lower-ranking gang members, he never had any dealings with the Dundon brothers themselves.
“Ger Dundon, John Dundon and Wayne Dundon; they might have known of me as Mark Heffernan the DJ in Limerick and stuff like that but they never knew me personally and never spoke to me,” he said.
The first direct contact between the Dundon brothers and Mr Heffernan’s family was when John Dundon contacted Mr Heffernan’s father on a business number in October 2008 inquiring about a dispute over money relating to the nightclub business.
“I have no ideas who you are friends with or anyone is friends with. I’m not saying he [Heffernan’s former business partner] was friends with them (the Dundons). I just don’t know why they came to me but when they did come to me, they were looking for money.”
In giving evidence against the gang members, Mr Heffernan had helped put away some of its most senior members, who he says were involved in extortion and recruiting young people, and helped break the gang.
“I don’t think the state really looked after me the way they should have. I made a major decision, not just me but my family. I don’t think many people at that time would have stood up to the Dundon-McCarthy gang after what happened to Shane Geoghegan and Roy Collins,” he said.
Mr Heffernan said he wished to stay in Limerick and develop youth programmes through his charity, Changing Lives, to keep young people on housing states away from gang culture and drugs.
A book on his experiences, Dead Man Talking, has just been published by Y Books and is now in local bookshops.